A Postscript to My July 25, 2017 Blog About Wealth and Value

A valued friend…and to think even though the same Stanford graduating class and we’re both from the Portland area, we only met in the last few years…is Peter Jurney. He “scribes” for our class. He sings in the choir at their Lake Oswego Methodist Church where my cousin, Wally Herder sang. I met Peter at Wally’s Memorial Service.

In any account, Peter helped extend my morning blog about people who are wealthy and what they value. Needed to share because it points out what I consider a point more than salient. It’s about immigration. Peter shared and so I now know more, which is a fine thing, that Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian immigrant. My goodness, if he had been banned from our country…in the best term, sad. In a very important valued term, ‘Trump?….”

Thanks, Peter…I’m the better for my new knowledge…but, even more, the “way better” for your friendship.

Gottesegen,

Mark.

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People I Respect…For Whom Wealth Happens…and Values Prevail

An intention was deleted. That’s not judgment; it’s fact. Wanted to start a writing sabbatical…not because of weariness, or a sense the stale obviated the fresh. Simply. Because. That’s good enough.

However, this morning my wife, Diane, sent me a link about Steve Jobs. Maybe you’ve seen it before—his last words. He died in his 50’s. I don’t believe it can be seen too much.

As I heard his word…and read them. I thought of wealth. I thought of two people whom I cannot respect more. And. I’m going to name them. One is deceased; the other is anything but deceased.

The first is A.C. Buehler. I’ve shared about him before. He was the head guy [not sure of all the letters to define his head-position. At any rate, he, of Victor Comptometer, was a founding member of my first served church, St. Pauls, Fullerton and Orchard, Chicago. I remember my first Church Council meeting. Hadn’t been there a month, so most of the men [yes, this was 1966] were older. Hey, I was new to being 26. The man next to me reminded me of the man in the movie, “Mr. 880.” He was quite old, gentle, humble, spoke softly.

In the movie, Mr. 880 made $1 bills and the money made was for charity. He was finally caught because he printed the S in WaShington backwards. Mr. Buehler was not Mr. 880, but the gifting spirits was similar.

Mr. Buehler [always Mr. Buehler] was so very polite. And, certainly with a casual airs asked if my new wife and I played golf. We did. Seldom and not well. That was the end of that exchange.

The next afternoon. I could see out of my basement office to the street in front of the church office. Up drove a limousine. The driver, well uniformed, went to the trunk, reached in with both arms and pulled out two full golf bags. He asked for “Pastor Miller.” Brought them to my office and explained, “These two full golf bags are gifts to you and Mrs. Miller, from Mr. Buehler. The lady’s clubs are for his wife, but she doesn’t play. Never been used. They are gold-plated.”

I never learned about gifts like this in seminary.

Then, I learned more about Mr. Buehler. He had to know Steven Jobs. Or, more accurately, Mr. Jobs somehow had to know about the truth that Mr. Buehler, the 11th richest man in the United States in 1966, who never confused wealth with value. Value ruled every time.

I’ve written before…Mr. Buehler underwrote our six-week Summer Children’s Day Camp and then donated the use of Victor’s company jet—picture attached—to give every single one of our children and high school advisers and adult workshop leaders a ride one afternoon. It took six flights, from Palwaukie Airport to Madison, round-trip, to give all 130 of us a ride.

Incredible. I learned that wealth helps. Sure. But so much more in how to live and what to live for.

Then, the other man who taught me, although my words were never good enough [in my view] to let him know how MUCH he taught me. His name is Tom Murdough. Tom and Joy [she’s not misnamed] live in Ohio and are members of a church where I was head of staff. Tom founded Little Tykes and then moved on to Step Two.

Well beyond that. It was his integrity and his values and his understanding that money has a primary purpose. He made it clear…and it’s a core root to raising money, especially for churches, “I love to make money. But. I love even more to give it away.”

Tom and Joy are the dearest of friends. Because of the way in which they cared not what they earned. The way in which they made generosity more important than keeping. And, to Tom and Joy…as well as to me…the best part of giving away…is receiving, knowing that you’ve done the right thing.

Meet Mr. Buehler’s jet…and then I hope when you mirror your life you’ll know your life is more of value than wealth. And then, listen and understand Seven Jobs…

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Taking Mirrors Out Of The White House

To my thought, it is expected but not helpful to make Sean Spicer a punching bag.

Sure, the line-items seem not to end…as spokesman for President Trump. To narrate what you know and have probably read, mistake after mistake. Not a position I know is anyone envy’s, other than Ms. Sanders. So be it.

I thought this, though, and maybe this makes little sense and lacks value. But, for me, it has value and seems supportable.

It is this…and I thought it as soon as it happened. Even before that. Because I know that Sean Spicer’s a devout Roman Catholic. And I know he went to Rome with the Presidential Party to visit the Pope and the Vatican.

And from what I heard…and I reserve the right to be wrong…and if so, please clarify and correct me…I learned that President Trump—or whoever made that decision, decided that Sean Spicer would not meet the Pope.

I consider that unconscionable.

Of course I don’t know this is verity, but I have no reason to believe it isn’t.

I consider it deplorable [edited adjective] Spicer was denied that privilege.

Hopefully you can correct me.

But, I would guess, if I’m right, then it’s perhaps the most vivid example of how thinking of others has no place in the highest levels of our government.

Probably the most helpful step anyone can take is to remove every mirror from the White House. Just sayin’.

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Strike Three! But Not Out….

Two times. In a global perspective not even a hint of trouble. In my own perspective it might mean I could never swing a bat and run or throw a pitch. Personally? Nice words are devastating. Facing the end of a baseball career. Larger than that, look up zilch in the dictionary.

The narrative.

First, summer, August of 1961. I pitched and played right field—not at the same time, mind you!—for Showboat Lounge. Yep, a bar and brew place in Beaverton, Oregon. It was a semi-professional baseball team. Rules were each team could have a max of 5 players who’d played professional baseball. We had 5 and they were good.

We played at Skavone Field just south of Portland, neighboring Milwaukie. It was the last game before we began tournament play, the goal to reach Battle Creek, Michigan in the National Semi-Professional World Series. I know: so what? Well, it was a “so what” to us on the teams and our families…and even made some headlines in the Oregonian.

Believe it was a Tuesday night. I pitched, the game was scoreless, 5th inning. Our first batter hit a single. I came up next. Was signaled by our coach, Milo Meskel [God rest his soul.] to sacrifice. I did. Maybe the best bunt of my career…it hugged the first base line, the first baseman came in to field. In a flash—no time to marinate options—I figured if I stopped quickly and headed back to home plate, the first baseman would come to tag me…and walla!—the runner would get to third base.

I should have marinated, because when I stopped, my right knee snapped and I crumbled on the first base line. I needed help off the field, was taken to Emmanuel Hospital and diagnosed with a torn cartilage in the right knee. Now, realize this was 1961, well before arthroscopy. Remember the orthopedic surgeons, Hopkins and Davis. The cartilage was jammed in the knee joint, so I was put on traction for 4 days. Yes, 1961, okay? Finally, the surgery.

During all that time Showboat Lounge won and won and won. And, oh my, they ended up winning the World Series in Battle Creek. I won the self-pity award hobbled on crutches. With no knowledge if I’d ever play again.

But, healing happened and it was on to my senior university year, and was able to pitch. No, I wasn’t even close to our best pitcher [Jim Lonborg wore that hat—went on to pitch the Boston Red Sox into a World Series championship.] However, think Jim had a sore shoulder so Coach Fehring asked me to pitch on Tuesday [why do all these “events” happen on Tuesday?], so I’d be ready to pitch the opening league game the next Saturday against UCLA at their field.

The third inning against, I think, Santa Clara, at Stanford, their pitcher was up. This was before Designated Hitter. I had a 3-2 count on him and he fouled about 3 pitches. I was ticked off; so was Bob Overman our catcher. So he gave me “the best fast ball signal,” which was an inverted one-finger sign. I huffed and puffed and threw as fast as I could. STRIKE THREE!

I came to the bench—hadn’t heard anything snap—but then realized my left arm was numb…totally dead. I wasn’t a right-hander. I said nothing, thinking it wasn’t anything serious.

Went out for the 4th inning, warmed up. Reality is the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate is 60’ six”. The ball didn’t go twenty feet. I was done. Really done. Was diagnosed as having torn a nerve sheath in my left arm. On the disabled list for my senior year.

That could have been it. But, I wasn’t smart enough to know that.

Summer of 1962 arrived, had graduated from the university and was headed to New Haven for seminary that next September.

Milo Meskel called me, “Mark, most of our team is back together, please join up with us. We’ll play for Archer Blower and Pipe…same details…our goal is Battle Creek.”

I didn’t tell him I had been on injured reserve. Knew I couldn’t pitch, but that, somehow didn’t mess up my swing. Welcome to Archer Blower & Pipe. Would be my last season. Chose not to sign a contract with either the Pirates or the Dodgers—seminary was the focus.

Played right field and was surprised…no, mostly pleased…that I actually threw a runner out after catching a fly ball. Well, well, well. The arm wasn’t numb. About two weeks later our starting pitcher couldn’t make the game, so Milo asked me to pitch. I hadn’t thrown 60’ 6” for months, but the warm-up seemed to go well. Welcome back to the pitcher’s mound, Mark!!!

My mother told me [she and my father came to every game at Skavone Field] that she almost fainted when she saw me warm-up. She didn’t.

The game went well, the curve ball somehow snapped and the low outside corner fast ball returned [not too hard] and the slider, my “get ‘em out” pitch behaved just fine.

The rest, they say, is history. We went on to Battle Creek, and of all things, I got to pitch the semi-final game. The only question was, although it was more of amusement than concern, what the religion was of the home plate umpire. Reason? Well, before the game the umpire asked Milo, “Say, is that left-hander starting for you, going to a seminary at Yale after the game?” Milo confirmed that. The umpire, then said, “Well, this will be interesting; the pitcher for the Marietta, George team is a Southern Baptist Preacher.”

Damn. All I could hope is that umpire wasn’t Southern Baptist!

He wasn’t.

And. Of all things, no numbness, no bad knee, the championship trophy ended up in our hands.

Well, all this on a Friday morning. Not sure why, but I have had a wonderful time writing this…I look up and a baseball from that game against Marietta, Georgia is still holding its own. And. I hope I am, too, no matter what happens in this new day, numb arm or not.

Thanks. Lots of thanks…for finishing this part of my game.
Even want to share a picture of decades gone by—

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God…Please Don’t Be A Stranger

The neurosurgeon gave an indelible image of Paul’s cancer. Paul was 18, son of dear friends, back in the 70’s. The parents were told about Paul’s brain cancer, called astrocytoma I believe, “It is like pouring cherry juice into tapioca.” Which meant the invasive cancer cells were like capillaries into the brain. Surgery happened for Paul, but impossible to remove all the cancer.

Since then our nephew Brian has been diagnosed with a similar tumor. As were Joe Biden’s son and Ted Kennedy. And now. Yesterday the medical diagnosis of John McCain.

I don’t believe, for any one of us, medical reports don’t happen. Of course. There are extremes and there are EXTREMES.

To that, I remember Bill Coffin once shared with a group of clergy, “The primary task of preaching is to preach vulnerability.”

What that meant was not singular. It meant we were not holier than thou. It meant we were in sales and not management. It meant we could NEVER deny our own struggles in relationships when strife and control menaced civility.

I am deep in sorrow about Senator McCain. 80 years old. A Prisoner of War. Suffered untold punishment during those years. He doesn’t need our prayers to urge him to resign. To not remain a Senator. No, not that. Is my opinion.

And now.

I will pray this morning. For Brian. For Senator McCain. For many of you. No less, I will pray for myself, asking God to be with me…and not highlight the imperfections and the mistakes. But be my teacher so I can relate with an adult mentality…to help people live…no matter what the next MRI reveals.

Life is difficult. Life is complicated. Life is vulnerable. None of that is stranger to God…and may God never be stranger to us. Amen.

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Dance As If No One’s Looking

I’ve had two dance instructors. Not that I can dance. Or even give it a hoof.

The first, probably the 8th grade at the Irvington Club in Portland, Oregon, the Murray Dance Studio. Even number of boys and girls. We’d line up opposite walls and walk in the same direction, meeting in the middle. From different schools, don’t remember nametags. Remember black slacks and shined shoes and white shirts.

We’d meet in the middle for our partner. I’m sure I wasn’t an exception to count as quickly to see how I’d partner up. Hey, 8th grade, puberty back in 1953 wasn’t in our vocabulary, but learning dances was…waltz, rumba, fox-trot…cannot remember the names…but I do know when I got to Jefferson High School and went to sock-hops, it was either the twist or the Jeff Hop. Waltz never made it.

Then, one night in Texas—had always heard about the Texas 2-step, but never was in a situation where it happened. Until I was in a very small village in south-central Texas, called Zuehl, maybe 50 people with a 300-member church and an 8-pin bowling alley, a rooster farm [for fighting] and a small fellowship center. Went with some friends from that church to a hoe-down. An honest-to-Texas-Band from San Antonio, plucking away. Lots of middle-age couples, dancing to their hearts’ content.

Lana, who along with her husband Don [God rest his soul] hosted me. Lana, who’s a firecracker in terms of energy and enthusiasm, grabbed my arm, “Come on, Preacher. Time to learn the Texas Two-Step.” And, off we went. Well, off she went. I followed…sort of. Everyone dancing in a circle, in the same direction, which was counter-clockwise. Never learned what was wrong with clockwise???

So, where does all this go? Hey, ‘tis a July Tuesday and came across a Facebook page from Tommie Pinkard…a dear friend. She and her husband moved from Austin to be with family…think in North Carolina. She posted about a family of 12. Yep. 12. And in this video, they dance. That’s an understatement. In tribute to their Irish heritage. I loved it…and my toes tapped. Not to follow; only to enjoy. And. It has nothing to do with a two-step or Waltz. But, to think. A family of 12, each gifted to share in moments of joy.

Think there’s something about theology and discipleship and church about that. But, you can take it from here.

Enjoy!

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Why Do Good…And Do It Well?

Does it matter? Really. Does it matter we see the results of doing good…and doing it well?

Certainly. For most of us. We are valued when someone responds…promptly. This morning as my “critters” walked me, a new neighbor, two blocks away, was talking on her phone in the driveway. She completed the call. Faith, our English Cocker was with me at the time. Her middle name is Friendly and Caring—you might hyphenate that. The lady and I had a hello, how are you visit. It was a lovely start to my day.

When Faith and I moved on she said, “Sir? I hope you have a really good Monday.”

I responded, “Ma’am? I ‘accuse’ you of helping that happen. Thank you.’

She put her hands to her face…and said, “Oh my, that mean I’m worth something?”

I nodded, pointed to Faith, “Faith and I confirm that. 10-4.”

A moment, a brief surface exchange. And yet, the brief visit ended up not remaining on the surface.

However. Seldom does that happen. Most of the time when we do our best to be affirming, we don’t see the result.

To that end, I was more than surprised. I was shocked. I served in Eugene, Oregon from 1969-1973. Not a particularly positive ministry…but the youth and I got along really well. Whatever.

Twenty years later I attended a minister’s seminar at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. A lady came up to me, shook my hand and said, “Mark Miller?” I admitted the name was accurate. She continued, “You may not remember me, but I was a member in our Eugene Church.” [She was right, I didn’t recognize her…and her name stayed beyond mind’s reach.] She then said, “I never said anything at the time, but one Sunday you preached a sermon that turned my life around…I went home and told my husband that your sermon convinced me I should become a minister.”

WHOA!

I was stunned. I think I asked if she remembered the sermon. I sure didn’t. You’d think I would have remembered. Since I preached no more than once a month. “No, I don’t. All I know it hit me in the heart and soul…and prompted me to take a new path. I’m grateful to you.” Oh, my. A good seed I had no idea I was the planter.

And I’m sure. For every one of us…getting results of doing the right thing, of being good, of helping someone…helps us feel good, for sure, better.

Still, what we can never know…and I don’t think we should ever know…is what kind of ground we’re planting the seed on. We don’t do the right thing for any other primary purpose than…

Well, I now share how Tom Ehrich puts it…his reflection today…on planting seeds, doing the right thing. One of the reasons I was impressed is he wrote this commentary from Gambier, Ohio, where my son, Andrew, went to college, Kenyon. But, even more, it’s the statements on why we do good and do it well; why we do the right thing.

Thanks, Tom…hopefully we’re not rocky ground that is impenetrable to your insights.
Jesus answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.” (Matthew 13.37)

GAMBIER, OH — I started my travel day on the outskirts of Cleveland. Where to have breakfast? After a walk, I made the only logical choice: Bob Evans. Always my go-to eatery if one is nearby. Why? They train their wait staff to be friendly.

Sure enough, I found myself in the capable, cheerful hands of a woman who understands early-morning diners. Her good seed was the little things. Her sense of timing, her cheerful but not cloying demeanor, her remembering my few requests. I left feeling well-fed, well-treated, and ready for my final hours of driving.

I left her a good tip, of course. But she will never know the impact of her good seed. Neither will the surly waitress at a Waffle House who couldn’t conceal her rage at life ever know what her bad seed did to my day.

We don’t know the outcomes of our behavior. We rarely see how an “I love you” helps a child stand tall, or how an expression of interest in another’s work helps their sense of pride, or how a kind word helps a sad or angry or wounded person cope. The sower plants, but doesn’t control. If we plant good seed, as Jesus did, we make the world a little better, even if we never see the harvest happen.

What compels us to plant good seed? If there is no demonstrable payoff for sowing good seed, or demonstrable penalty for planting bad seed, why do we bother? That’s the mystery of goodness. The good person does good even when no one is looking. The good writer stays with a thought an extra few minutes and strains for the right word whatever the size of his audience. The good friend gives kindness whether or not the gift is acknowledged.

The sower of good seed does the right thing because it is the right thing. People’s lives will change even if the sower doesn’t see it. The sower of good seed trusts in God’s providence.

Jesus saw himself as a sower off good seed. He moved about so much that he probably had little inkling of his impact. Even his ever-present disciples showed little comprehension. But he knew that, in God’s good time, in God’s harvest at “the end of the age,” the good seed would yield a bountiful harvest, and the evil one’s bad seed would be seen clearly as weeds. He didn’t need to fight every battle right then. He just needed to do good.

Chances are that my waitress at Bob Evans will never see the impact of her kindness. I doubt that she minds. She struck me as someone who does good because it is good.

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